Opinion: Review’s coverage of AB 1991 is biased and incomplete


Posted by on Sat, May 10, 2008

This is an updated version of an opinion previously posted on hmbreview.com
This week’s issue of the Half Moon Bay Review contained a "news" story by recently-hired reporter Mark Noack that described the April 30 Assembly Local Government Committee hearing on AB 1991—a bill that seeks to exempt the 129-house Beachwood/Glencree development from having to comply with our state’s environmental laws.
The proposed bill is part of a sweetheart deal that the Half Moon Bay City Council is attempting to consummate for wealthy developer Charles "Chop" Keenan. To date, the City Council has failed to address a number of questions about this deal. The issues extend beyond Half Moon Bay to all of California.
I don’t wish to pick on Noack, but the Review’s story on the AB 1991 hearing was less than objective, to put it mildly. I would go so far as to say it was unprofessional—-but that would elevate the story to being viewed as an actual piece of journalism, which it clearly is not.



For all I know, Noack was just complying with the wishes of his bosses, editor Clay Lambert and publisher Debra Godshall. The headline of the story, composed by Lambert, read, "AB 1991 becomes a Capitol idea." It doesn’t take a genius to see that the wording of the headline is trying to put some positive spin on the bill. Media bias is usually not so blatant. What about this for a headline: "AB 1991 becomes a Controversial idea"? That would have provided readers with a much better sense of the truth.

Lambert later claimed that his headline was only meant to be a play on words—a pun—since the AB 1991 hearing was held in Sacramento in the state capitol building. Wikipedia defines a pun as "a phrase that deliberately exploits confusion between similar-sounding words for…rhetorical effect."  Sounds about right.

Next, we have the story leading off with four paragraphs about Joshua Bassofin from Defenders of Wildlife, who spoke all of about ten words at the hearing—towards the very end of the public comment period. The Review also points out that Bassofin "hadn’t read the legislation." Maybe not, but he certainly understood the issues at stake based on all the public controversy about AB1991.
The Review doesn’t even mention Sarah Christie, the Legislative Director of the California Coastal Commission who gave a very clear, forceful, and fact-based presentation against AB 1991. The Review also fails to mention speakers from the Sierra Club and the California Audubon Society who gave lengthy presentations. But the Review does go out of its way to mention Mary Brune of "Making our Milk Safe" who, like Bassofin, also said about 10 words in opposition to the bill towards the very end of the public comment period.
Did the Review story give the public an accurate overall picture of what took place at the hearing? Not even close.
Local "resident" Judy Taylor is quoted in the story, but not identified as one of the numerous realtors who trekked up to the hearing. Taylor has frequently advocated pro-development policies during public hearings about updating the HMB and Midcoast Local Coastal Programs. Did Taylor "read the legislation"? The Review doesn’t say.
My own observations from the hearing were previously posted here on Coastsider. But don’t take my word for it, just watch the actual video of the hearing provided by Darin Boville of Montara Fog.

Coastsider postings on AB1991 are biased and incomplete. Yawn.

Snappy headlines and lead in sentences are designed to draw readers in to an article.

I do this a lot writing on a relatively dry subject matter.  In fact,  I spend a lot of time thinking about this and the closing line.  I’m always gratified when my lines are used as written.

I think the Milk and Wildlife people were mentioned because it shows the efforts taken to kill the bill by people who have nothing to do with it or don’t live anywhere near HMB.  These comments do more harm than good because everybody knows they were put up to it.

At least the City got a bunch of locals to speak,  who do care how this plays out. Even if some were realtors and members of SAMCAR.

Kevin Barron,

Substantiate Your claims with multiple specific examples - if you are capable of doing that! Be complete, rather than vague, obtuse and illusionary! 

You wrote: “Coastsider postings on AB1991 are biased and incomplete.” YOUR posting is the only one I see that completely matches that description.

Ken Johnson

It should be clear to anyone that the Review was trying to put a negative spin on the environmental groups’ participation.

Do people need to be reminded that the Review is supposed to be a newspaper? I know it’s a pathetic excuse for one, but still, it’s not supposed to color the news, just report it. Opinions are for the editorial page.

And Steve, there were many “locals” who opposed the bill via faxes, letters, and emails. Unlike realtors who have a lot of time on their hands these days, most working people can’t take off to Sacramento during the middle of a weekday.

I agree with Kevin Lancing that the Review headline made it sound like AB 1991 is catching on in Sacramento, which it definitely is not.

Furthermore, the Review is doing a p…poor job of giving the other side of the story, how it looks to anyone outside of HMB, and why this creative act of destruction is of such overwhelming concern to so many people in the environmental community.

Proposition 20 was passed by more than two thirds of California voters and the Coastal Act remains immensely popular to this day, yet this proposed amendment to the unrelated Map Act would eliminate coastal land from the purview of the very body legislated to oversee it.

The Coastal Commission and the environmental organizations are on the same page, that this method of amending a bill unrelated to the Coastal Act per se, in a way that directly undermines it can, and will be, applied to dozens of other laws as legislators seek to find new ways to circumvent the Coastal Act.

The fallacy in Mullin’s and Orick’s claim they can fix AB 1991 to “compromise” is that its language is self-referential, so can not limit applications of the same technique to different laws, or limit legislators from writing similarly-intended bills to help other stressed-out cities, or the Machiavellian schemes of councils in bed with developers like HMB.

Hyman: “I think the Milk and Wildlife people were mentioned because it shows the efforts taken to kill the bill by people who have nothing to do with it or don’t live anywhere near HMB.  These comments do more harm than good because everybody knows they were put up to it.”

“Put up to it”? What on God’s green earth might that mean? That California citizens (who overwhelmingly passed the Coastal Initiative) don’t have a legitimate interest in the development or preservation of the coast?

1991 subverts state law and policy; it’s not a private matter reserved for HMB developers and realtors.

When I worked at the Mercury News, which was in a Golden Age of punning headlines at the time, the rule was that any pun in a headline had to “work both ways”. That is, the headline had to make sense, and the pun had to express something meaningful as well.

The problem with Clay’s headline is that the story doesn’t say that AB1991 is anything like a “capital idea”, so the pun “capitol idea” just flops around there on the page.


You may not be aware of it, but AB 1991 (Mullin) will have disastrous effects up and down the California coast.

Unscrupulous bureaucrats and elected officials in counties such as Mendocino will gleefully work with developers and use the AB 1991 template to circumvent CEQA and the Coastal Act. They’re already notorious for their utter contempt of state environmental laws and the Coastal Act in particular.

With that in mind, you may want to reconsider your statement “...[it]shows the efforts taken to kill the bill by people who have nothing to do with it or don’t live anywhere near HMB…”

Ken… welcome to the everyday life of how the other half lives. You are ranting about how opinionated the HMB Review is… well Ken, welcome to how 50% of the American populous feels about NPR, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, et al… the choice of what to cover, how to color it, and what not to include, much how to bend/paint statistic in your private opinion espoused on the public readership point of view has been relevant for decades in what you probably think as “unbiased” mainstream media. Welcome to other side on what is “non-debatable” amongst the coastal enviro-nazism (excuse the term, but it’s close). What seems to be doctrine and righteous vs. what is filled with folly is laughable.  When a media outlet isn’t on the same side of the fence as you, you seem to decry biased journalism. I’ve yet to find one media outlet in ANY format (especially Coastsider) that provides clear, unbiased, factual, and subjective journalism. Sorry to offend, but you can’t be that naive.

Ken… if I cared enough, I could close my eyes, click my mouse on this (and many other blogs) and find one in a nanosecond… you’ve just been drinking the coastal Kool-Aid so long, you can’t even recognize the artificial biased sweetener anymore. Course you might lambast me ... and make me clarify my meaning of what “the” means…

Kudos to the Review, for swinging the pendulum back to an iota of neutrality and reasonability.


I was hoping you would answer Ken’s question by providing specific examples of biased and incomplete stories at Coastsider.

You may not realize it, but your response pretty much made Ken’s point.

I’d also be interested to know why you personally are so hostile towards environmental laws.

The Review has a long track record of distorting the facts.

In August 2004, for example, the Review printed a highly misleading story (written by Jeanine Gore) and an accompanying editorial (written by Debra Godshall) that falsely claimed “State and Federal Biologists Find No Frog at Wavecrest.”  (We all know how that one turned out).

I will be the first to admit that complaining about the Review’s biased coverage will not do much good—-other than perhaps to inform a few unsuspecting recent subscribers. As I have said before, it’s the Review’s basic nature to slant things toward the interests of realtors and developers.

Finally, Kevin Barron seems to think that AB 1991 is being opposed by enviro-extremists.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Lots of people are opposing AB 1991 because it undercuts existing laws. In other words, they are saying

“...how about just enforcing the LAW that is ALREADY in place?”

Where I have heard that phrase before?